After four minutes and five seconds of football Oct. 26, Northwest found itself in a similar situation it has throughout the season. The Bearcats trailed Lincoln, a team that entered the contest riding the coattails of its first win of the season, by a touchdown -- something they've grown accustomed to.
The Bearcats trailed by 7 last week in Kearney, Nebraska, and the week before against Pitt State. They trailed early in Emporia the week before that. Last season, the Bearcats didn’t win a game when they failed to score first. Against Lincoln, they earned their fourth comeback victory of the season.
After giving up the early lead, Northwest (7-1) responded and blew past Lincoln (1-7), scoring a 56-9 Homecoming victory at Bearcat Stadium. The Bearcats took the 7-0 deficit in stride, piling on 35 unanswered points and putting the Blue Tigers away before halftime.
“We got ourselves into a hole right away again,” sophomore quarterback Braden Wright said. “Thankfully this week we did kind of start creating some momentum, breaking a few big plays that kind of took the top off (Lincoln’s) defense a little bit. But, like coach said, we should never have put ourselves in that position anyway.”
Lincoln struck first by way of a pick-six, one that came via an early gaffe from redshirt freshman quarterback Mike Hohensee and was returned 52-yards for a score by Lincoln linebacker Vontavious Thacker. Hohensee, Northwest coach Rich Wright said, was just trying to make a play. The result was the biggest play of the day for Lincoln.
From there, Northwest locked in. Following Thacker’s interception, Northwest scored on five consecutive drives, a streak that carried the team into halftime.
Less than three minutes after Lincoln’s first and only touchdown, Braden Wright found senior running back Justin Rankin with a 21-yard equalizer. Rankin rushed for the Bearcats’ next touchdown, scoring on a 4-yard carry that gave Northwest a 14-7 lead.
“It feels really nice,” Rankin said. “It’s nice to bounce back, but, like we’ve all been saying, we have a lot to work on because that ceiling, it’s there, and we’ve just got to bust through it.”
Rankin’s two touchdowns would have been enough to secure a victory for Northwest in the Homecoming matchup. The scoring onslaught, though, marched on.
Hohensee found sophomore running back Raymond Thomas and Braden Wright found sophomore wideout Gus Gomez for touchdowns on the Bearcats’ next two drives, for 25 and 19 yards, respectively. The scores were the first of both sophomore’s careers.
Braden Wright connected with junior wideout Imoni Donadell in the Bearcats’ next drive, their last of the half, for a 56-yard touchdown pass to give Northwest a 35-7 lead it carried with it to the home locker room.
In some ways, Northwest’s final three possessions of the first half defined what the game was for the team. The last few drives displayed the best of Braden Wright. They highlighted Northwest’s depth in their skill possessions. They depicted Northwest’s offense as the scoring-machine it hasn’t always been this season. They helped the team’s sophomore quarterback win the Don Black Award, given annually to the MVP of Northwest’s Homecoming game.
“My job is, if you look at it, I’m just the distributor,” Braden Wright said. “The O-line’s keeping me with a clean pocket all day. I can always hand the ball off to Justin and get the change moving. I can throw him the ball. The receivers are blocking for me when I’m running on the perimeter. They’re catching the ball. … That’s not an individual award by any means. … That was a product of a lot of people playing well for me today.”
Braden Wright’s role as the distributor remained on exhibit in the second half. After Lincoln forced a safety early in the third quarter, the quarterback found sophomore wide receiver LaTroy Harper for a 34-yard touchdown, his fourth passing touchdown of the day.
The quarterback found the end zone himself midway through the game’s fourth quarter, pushing his way in for a 3-yard touchdown run. The play gave Northwest a 40-point lead. It paved the way to playing time for Northwest second-and-third stringers. It served as an exclamation point on Braden Wright’s performance, one good for 227 passing yards, 80 rushing yards, 5 total touchdowns and a 56% completion mark.
Braden Wright, though, wasn’t satisfied with his day. In the aftermath of the 56-9 victory, and on the heels of a Week 7 loss last week in Kearney, the quarterback was, more than anything, penitent and forward-looking.
“I mean, (my performance) was better than last week, for sure, but it was still spotty,” Braden Wright said. “There were things, especially on the first two drives, that I missed that I should not miss. … I can’t come out flat like I did today.”
Northwest’s final trip to the end zone came in a way less conventional than the team’s first eight. Redshirt freshman Giavonni Guido, listed on Northwest’s roster as a defensive back, quarterbacked the Bearcats through their final two drives. Guido capped off Northwest’s scoring on a 30-yard quarterback keeper, becoming the third Bearcat to score his first career touchdown versus Lincoln and sealing Northwest’s 56-9 victory.
For Northwest, the win over Lincoln portrayed a promising performance from a team in need of a victory. Chasing Central Missouri, their Week 11 opponent, in the MIAA standings, the Bearcats couldn’t afford to drop a game, much less one to a team like Lincoln.
At times, the Bearcats looked dominant. At others, they failed to execute. After the 47-point win, Rich Wright said the team has yet to reach its ceiling. He’s not really sure where that ceiling is, he said. Still, the Bearcats blew out Lincoln the week after their worst performance of the season.
“The thing that I’ve liked about this football team since the onset is I feel like we’re very unselfish as a group. We’re resilient,” Rich Wright said. “When bad things happen to us, we don’t fold the tents. We usually find a way to respond. We don’t panic.”
The Bearcats, of course, responded Oct. 26 against Lincoln. Braden Wright’s statistics bordered between impressive and ridiculous. The defense gave up 66 passing yards. Seven different Bearcats found the end zone. Lincoln’s offense didn’t.
The team’s quarterback still wasn’t content in the moments after the win. Braden Wright said he felt good, but he wanted more. He still does, both for himself and for his team. The Bearcats season won’t be defined by their Week 8 performance.
“There was still those inconsistencies that — we’ll have ‘em cleaned up,” Braden Wright said. “I know I talk about it a lot, but we'll have ‘em cleaned up.”